Microfinancing and Technical Trainings Help Benin Farmer Get Ahead
For the past 32 years, Marc Tasso, a cashew producer from the village of Gararou in northeastern Benin, has carefully worked to maintain his orchard. Over time, this task has become more arduous with difficulties in pruning the branches and weeding the floor affecting the quality and sustainability of his orchard, resulting in lower yields. His orchard soon became overgrown, limiting room for branches to fruit effectively and for crews to collect fallen nuts. To add to complications, any time or money put into rehabilitation and renovation initiatives—which are needed—would put serious strain on his livelihood since cashew production is his main source of income.
To support cashew producers in similar situations to Tasso, the USDA Food for Progress West Africa PRO-Cashew Project helps build capacity to rehabilitate and renovate their orchards. Through training sessions hosted by the Project, Tasso and other members from his community were able to learn about enhanced pruning techniques, how to identify aged cashew trees in need of replacement, proper spacing for planting, how to apply fertilizers most effectively and general maintenance and weeding best practices to facilitate the harvesting of fallen nuts. They also received financial skill building sessions focused on available financial services in their localities, personal financial management, financial management for agricultural domains, long-term financial planning, management of credit, risk management and insurance plans, knowledge of mobile money systems, e-security, financial security, networking and marketing, contractualization with cashew industry processors and gender dynamics in the cashew nut industry.
“My harvest was getting smaller and smaller as the trees got older,” Tasso said. “The trees were no longer producing at an ideal level. It was very difficult financially because the sale of cashew nuts brought me very little money, which made it even more difficult maintain my plantation and take care of my other needs.”
After consulting a Fédération Nationale des Producteurs d’Anacarde du Bénin (FENAPAB) agricultural adviser, working in partnership with the PRO-Cashew Project, Tasso was made aware of a plantation maintenance loan option available to him through PADME (Promotion et l’Appui au Développement des Micro-Entreprises), a microfinance institution in his village.
From here, the adviser helped him file for the loan, and he was able to obtain $320 (200,000 FCFA) in credit. This allowed Tasso to hire professional service providers (PSP) trained by PRO-Cashew to help renovate his plantation. Among improvements, Tasso has spaced out his trees in the orchard to maximize production and rehabilitated older trees which are pruning to produce new yields. For others needing replacement, PRO-Cashew helped Tasso take advantage of a popular and successful program from the Government of Benin organized by their Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries called Programme National de Développement de la Filière Anacarde (PNDFA). This program subsidizes close to 80% of the price per tree from approved nurseries sourcing high-quality plants with favorable traits that are climate resilient, have larger nuts and are known to be easier to transform. With PRO-Cashew having identified multiple of the government-approved nurseries in the region, the project subsidized close to $212 (132,000 FCFA) worth of trees, Tasso was able to obtain 220 grafted seedlings for only $35 (22,000 FCFA).
While waiting for his replacement cashew tress to produce their first harvest, Tasso intercropped his orchard with soybeans so that nitrogen fixation, a process designed to enrich the soil that supports the development of young cashew trees, could take place. This has already led to decent soy and cashew harvests which Tasso has been able to profit from—recovering a bit from last year’s financial hit due to weak yields.
“I’ve already harvested my soybeans and cashew nuts and I’ve repaid the loan and interest rate on time, thanks in large to the skills on cashew production I learned during the training course,” Tasso said. “My 7-hectare orchard, which used to produce barely a ton and a half of cashew nuts, has doubled its production thanks to the application of good agricultural practices such as weeding, pruning and, above all, the thinning that the PSP carried out in my field.”
As next steps, Tasso plans to increase his orchard’s production to five tons in the coming years, especially once all trees are fully productive. With more developments on the horizon still, Tasso’s income has already increased, making over $725 in sales (451,490 FCFA)—double the amount of his loan.
Once his new grafted seedlings start producing cashew nuts, Tasso will almost certainly be able to reach his production goals. With PRO-Cashew grafted seedlings taking three years to provide their first harvest—two years less than with conventional cashew seeds—these results are expected to happen sooner than later. Tasso is also working with Korosho, a PRO-Cashew grantee, to obtain agriculture certifications that will enable him to reach higher price points and reach international markets while upholding stronger standards of sustainability.